And Darling is doing little to change this. Granted, he’s attaching some strings to his deal, such as ensuring the supply of mortgage and small business lending at 2007 levels - which is absurd given that demand won’t be at 2007 levels.
But these strings don’t change the basic structure of the control of banks. Darling is promising to run RBS “at arm’s length” - which just replaces one form of passive ownership with another.
In particular, the clampdown (pdf) on bank executives’ pay mistakes the symptom for the disease. The disease is that owners have given bosses too much autonomy, in the belief - now proven to be false - that a single individual, or small group, has the know-how to control a complex organization. Big payouts for bosses are just the effect of giving them excessive power.
Everyone knows centrally planned economies are a stinkingly bad idea. The lesson of the collapse of many banks is that centrally planned companies are also a bad idea. And they’re a bad idea for the same reason - that, in complex organisms such as economies or big companies, fragmented and tacit knowledge cannot be centralized, and “leadership“ often degenerates into mere rent-seeking.
Herein lies the opportunity which nationalization presents. It gives us a breathing space to ask: what are the best (or least bad) organizational forms for owning and controlling banks? Is hierarchy unconstrained by shareholders or government really superior to mutual ownership, or other forms?
My fear is that our rulers’ ideology will prevent them from even asking this question. At best, they’ll just give us a new regime for regulating banks which will be perfectly able to prevent this crisis recurring, and perfectly unable to prevent a different one.
I suspect instead that, in a few years’ time, the state’s stakes in the banks will be sold off by a Tory government to fund tax cuts for the rich, and RBS and Lloyds-HBOS will return to the same organizational form that got us into this trouble in the first place.